Cathay Pacific’s Capacity Remains Down 98% On 2019

A surge in COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong and crew quarantine rules are constraining the airline’s ability to operate.

Credit: Joe Pries

As long as current COVID-19 restrictions remain in place in Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific will only be able to operate 2% of its pre-pandemic passenger capacity, according to chairman Patrick Healy.

In an update provided by Healy accompanying Cathay’s 2021 financial results released March 9, he said the strict quarantine rules in place since a surge of COVID-19 cases emerged in January have forced the airline to scrap the overwhelming majority of its flights.

Cathay posted a 2021 net loss of HK$5.5 billion ($70 million), although it was profitable in the second half of the year.

Any momentum Cathay had in the latter half of 2021 has completely stalled in the 2022 March quarter. “We have had an extremely challenging start to 2022,” Healy stated. “Following the emergence of the omicron variant, the [Hong Kong] government tightened the quarantine requirements for Hong Kong-based aircrew, notably those operating cargo flights, and temporarily banned all flights from nine countries, including the UK and the US, which are major markets for us. Passengers from high-risk places were banned from transiting through Hong Kong International Airport (HKG). 

“All this constrained our ability to operate flights as planned. As a result, we expect to operate around 2% of pre-COVID-19 passenger flight capacity, and our cargo flight capacity is likely to remain less than one-third of pre-COVID-19 levels, while current restrictions remain in place. We are trying our best to maintain our passenger and cargo networks as far as possible and will try to increase our cargo capacity as much as practicable.”

Healy noted that Cathay employees spent more than 62,000 nights in quarantine hotels in 2021.

Despite the curtailed schedule, Healy said Cathay will maintain air links to Hong Kong: “As Hong Kong’s home airline, we are resolutely committed to keeping the flow of people and cargo between Hong Kong and the rest of the world safely moving, and to protecting and enhancing the city’s aviation hub status despite the challenging circumstances.”

Healy added that the airline remains confident in the long-term future and in its ability to eventually recover from the demand drop caused by the pandemic.